If you listened to the Rapids Podcast last year, this is exactly the word that they kept repeating, over and over again.
Over and over, coming from Richard Flemming and his guests on the Colorado Rapids Podcast. The Rapids Podcast is as close to the "official line" as you can get it, and 2015 was all about bringing in "leaders" for "leadership." That was why we sold or dumped off most of the young talent to bring in older players. That was why "The Rapids Way" had to be abandoned: because we needed more leadership. More grown men who could take charge on the field. Fewer kids who couldn't be counted upon to provide leadership.
And when the season started in 2015, that was how we were told the team was built: leaders from back to front. A veritable team of leaders.
When Taylor Twellman and Matt Doyle finally cracked open the festering sore that is the Colorado Rapids offseason thus far, it took them all of 30 seconds to completely dismantle that narrative of 2015 (Although one could argue that the narrative was dismantled because of the dismal performance and directionless play of the so-called "team of leaders").
You can hear it genuinely troubles Twellman, and Doyle most likely brought it up because he knew that Twellman had a strong opinion on it. In my view, it was a release of a pressure point. For all the talk of leaders, for all the promotion of a team of leaders, full of experienced, veteran leadership: it's all a facade. It's marketing. It's talking points.
Because when it came down to making a serious leadership decision: a coach who had failed to deliver on any of the promises made to the fans when he was hired, and failed so spectacularly that it fundamentally transformed the team from a likable young attacking group into a group of grizzled, hardened defensive veterans?
When it came to that decision: the Rapids organization blinked. They balked. They couldn't even.
And now it's closing time. It's been batted around by those in the league and the fans at home that these are not the actions of a calm, collected and confident soccer club. These are the desperate actions of those who know their jobs are all on the line. The excuse making. The panic moves. The floated names of superstars who make no sense.
"No one wants to talk about the Rapids"
In 2013, everybody loved this team; or at least, people were ready to love this team. The team was hitting on all MLS' preferred talking points: young talent. A mix of Caribbean, South, Central and North American players playing fast-paced, smart football, with a run-and-gun offense.
But now? We float a name like Tim Howard to get a little bit of buzz after what appeared to be an abysmal Draft followed by the big anticipated move for Alejandro Bedoya which didn't turn out.
Now the Rapids have become a name that no one wants to speak anymore. One, because there's not much to talk about. Two, because the fallout from "Weathergate" has left American soccer journalists wondering if it's really worth their time to bother dealing with a club with a prickly reputation, especially when that club isn't doing anything particularly special. Like I said. Not much to talk about. Not much to say that hasn't already been said.
The Rapids have a serious coaching problem. There it is. It's been said. It's been repeated and it doesn't look like the situation has changed at all with regard to that. Nothing new to report.
Even if you did want to do some digging into the inner-workings of the club, the prickly reputation (deserved or not) gives some pause before picking up the phone and dialing in to DSG Park to have a quick chat.
A far cry from the Rapids of 2012-2013, I might add.
But back to the Extra-Time Interview:
This is the thing which intrigued me the most. When questioned about the Howard acquisition, everyone on the Extra Time show panned it. Rightly so. Tim Howard is not what the Rapids need right now. But look at the website home for this Extra-Time episode. Look at the banner. Look at the way the episode is named. Look at the keywords. If anything, you'd think MLS and Extra-Time would do their best to hype this move, and they can't bring themselves to do it.
Some fans and critics keep saying that the Rapids need to "splash" or that they need to do something "splashy" in order to regain the fans' trust. In no uncertain terms, I want to make it clear that this is the attitude that the Colorado Rapids must under all circumstances avoid. They also must avoid any supposed tried and true wisdom about "showing stability" and building a team of old-school veterans to compliment their decidedly old-school coach.
The Rapids must return to the principles that made them a likable and watchable team in 2013.
Go back to the well. And that begins with finding a coach who, like Oscar Pareja, could deliver on a youth-built attacking team. No one needs to make a "splash" in this regard, though fans who like splashy moves will consistently beg the Rapids to make them. As if there were one or two special players who can change an entire team from being terrible to suddenly being title contenders.
Aside from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Zlatan alone, that's not how soccer works.
You can argue that there are two or three players who are game-changers within a system, but that's the key: it all happens within a system. It's the reason Dillon Powers went from stud to supposed dud within the space of two years. Dillon Powers worked within one system and doesn't work as well within a different one.
The point is: systems matter. Those that choose those systems matter. And those that choose the players to play that system matter as well and when those things are broken and showing no signs of being fixed, Taylor Twellman bitch slaps you on what is supposed to be a 45 minute infomercial for Major League Soccer.
This is what happens when a sports franchise appears to lose sight of any kind of goals and aspirations they had besides making sure that the people in charge keep their jobs.
Once that fundamental trust is breached: the trust that a sports franchise or club is after something more than money or job security, or is above the petty concerns that motivate us from day-to-day life, and instead is after trophies, glory and weaving the fabric of legends; you may never get it back. What this interview showed is not only have the fans themselves doubts as to whether or not the Rapids are engaged in that quest for glory, but so do the people who work to write the narratives for the whole league. The storytellers. The brand specialists. The marketers.
It's not that they don't believe the Rapids can do it. We are beyond that now. What this interview said to me was people doubt even whether or not the Rapids want to do it.
That's when you can start hearing those ever so familiar bells of "the new Chivas" ringing. Over and over again. That's when you start hearing the conspiracy theories about moving the team, the team that you may have supported for going on 20 years now. Just cruelly plucked out from under you and moved to greener pastures. Maybe Miami. Maybe St. Louis. Who knows.
It's nonsense, but when a club has appeared to have forgotten why anyone even does this whole "sports" thing in the first place, this is the result. People get cynical. But that's mostly because they are scared and are guarding themselves from the most painful of outcomes when a team consistently does poorly in the United States: the uprooting and deletion of their history. To be cynical is a natural response. You want to stop caring. You want to stop the pain before it starts. If you could say you saw it coming, at least you'd have that thought to keep you company while an organization upon which you built a family of friends and fellow fans packs up the last bits of your hopes for a future where you and your kids or grandkids are in one stadium supporting the same club and heads off somewhere else.
At least you'd have that much. You could tell us all in a gruff and breathy growl, "I told you so."
The Colorado Rapids had their chances thus far in the off-season to take the steps toward making themselves back in to a likable and watchable soccer team. They have, thus far, appeared to have every step wrong, and like Sideshow Bob, keep stepping into rakes. Endless rakes. A field of endless goddamn rakes.